How can a building pay homage to its iconic neighbors without losing its own identity?

On October 17th, six years to the day after we embarked on the design, The University of Massachusetts Boston celebrated the completion of University Hall. This milestone – the official ribbon cutting ceremony – seemed like a fitting time to reflect on a key design idea that guided the project.

How can a building pay homage to its iconic neighbors without losing its own identity?

University Hall set out to recognize, and physically reference, its surrounding buildings in an effort to link and unify various structures on the Peninsula. Its primary organizational form is a triangle (the atrium) within a triangle. One side of the triangle forms a north-south axis just like the main triangular volume of I.M. Pei’s JFK Library to the north. This axis is continued by the State Archive Building across the street and, subsequently, appeared in Rafael Vinoly’s EMK Institute.

University Hall’s homage to its context is most evident in the choice of materials on the exterior. The dove white stone cladding on the south and west facades recalls the white precast cladding of the JFK Library and is the same stone used on the curved façade of neighboring Kallmann McKinnell and Wood’s Campus Center. As University Hall turns to face the original cluster of brick buildings, its cladding transitions to brick and places emphasis on detail and craftsmanship paying respect to the rich local brick heritage.

Additionally, University Hall ‘holds hands’ with the Campus Center to shape a major outdoor space – Commencement Lawn – facing the harbor. It extends the prominent cantilevered canopy in an arch that follows the new roadway and shades the glazed atrium overlooking the harbor.

Through form, materials, and alignment the design of University Hall respectfully recalls and responds to its prominent neighbors. At the same time, the building asserts its identity through the expression of three major ‘civic’ learning spaces; the recital hall, the theatre, and the 500-seat auditorium. These spaces appear as curvilinear sculptural elements clad in copper. The forms weave through the building skin connecting the inside to the outside and stitching the various forms and materials together.

The design of University Hall is inspired by UMass Boston’s mission to build on its academic strengths and leverage its location while expressing its cultural diversity. The resulting compositional assemblage at University Hall gives an ode to its iconic context while projecting a new presence on campus.

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